VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

Our Story

History of Milner Gardens & Woodland

General Noel Money served in the Second Boer War and First World War, then returned home to Qualicum Beach and purchased the Qualicum Beach Hotel. The hotel was an immense success and attracted the rich and famous from around the world to Qualicum Beach from the 1920's to the 1940's, but was dismantled in the 1960’s to make room for new homes. Because of his profitable business, he decided to build this estate for his sister, Hilda Bayley, and mother, Emily Louisa Money. The house construction began in 1929 and completed in 1931, but due to Emily’s worsening health, the seclusion of the massive property was not ideal and the house was sold just six years later.

Horatio (Ray) and his wife Rina Milner of Edmonton, Alberta bought the house and 70 acres of property in 1937 as a summer home, and both took an active role in developing the early stages of the garden, planting the orchard and several of the existing trees. Both had a deep love of the forest and passion to preserve it. Sadly, Rina died of cancer in November 1952. Just two years later, in 1954, Ray married widow Veronica Fitzgerald.

Ray was born in Sackville, New Brunswick in 1889. He attended Kings College, Nova Scotia and graduated at age 20. He was called to the bar in 1911 after receiving a law degree from Dalhousie University, and after serving in WWI, he was made Kings Counsel. Ray retired in 1969 at age 80 after an exceptional career. A renowned philanthropist and businessperson, he had been the chair and director of several companies, as well as a partner in the law firm Milner and Steer. As one of his many achievements, Ray was a founding director of Canadian Utilities and was instrumental in the formation and growth of the company. He was made a companion of the Order of Canada in December, 1969. Three universities awarded him honorary doctorates.

Mrs. Veronica Milner (nee Villiers) was born in London in 1909 within the British aristocracy, and was the widow of Desmond Fitzgerald, 28th Knight of Glin, County Limerick, Ireland. Her mother, Elaine, was a cousin of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Both Churchill and Veronica were descended from the First Duke of Marlborough, and thus were related to Diana, Princess of Wales, resulting in multiple Royal visits to the estate. Her second marriage to Ray Milner in 1954 brought Veronica from life in a grand castle to a charming hidden gem in Qualicum Beach. This drastic change left her feeling homesick, and she quickly turned all her focus towards creating her new sanctuary.

In Ireland, Veronica knew many garden experts, including Sir Frederick Moore. Moore was instrumental in the development of the gardens at Mount Usher, County Wicklow. He based ideas at Mount Usher on the work of his friend William Robinson, known for his “Wild Garden” style. With the help of renowned rhododendron growers Ted and Mary Grieg, Ray and Veronica created an exquisite Canadian adaptation of a wild garden nestled in the forest. Many seeds and specimens found in the garden today were gathered on the Milners’ extensive overseas travels. Her mother once wrote to her, “I love to think you have gained real happiness...Rhododendrons and pines against the distant sea background sounds too beautiful." Veronica shared her passion and knowledge beyond her own back yard, becoming a member of the Founding Committee of the VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver, the University of Alberta Devonian Botanical Garden, the Royal Horticultural Society and a Fellow of the Garden Conservancy.

After Ray’s death in May 1975, the now mature garden was featured in several books and magazines, each accompanied by beautiful photographs. Despite a well-known reputation as a difficult woman, Veronica was an artist with an unerring eye for beauty. She was an accomplished artist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and Commerce. She spent many hours painting with friends in her garden and her elegant pastel botanicals and rich oils still adorn the walls of the of Milner House today. Veronica opened the garden to the community on several occasions and had many well-known visitors, including Churchill’s daughter Mary Soames, King Charles, and the late Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Princess Diana. Veronica saw the garden as her important contribution to the world and she began a passionate campaign to save it for perpetuity, even attempting to convince King Charles to purchase the estate. To her great relief, her dream was fulfilled when the garden was transferred to Vancouver Island University (then Malaspina College) in May 1996, two years before her death. The garden was dedicated as "The Milner Gardens" in recognition of Ray and Veronica Milner. VIU’s goal is to maintain the garden in perpetuity for education and the community’s benefit in the Milner’s memory. Mrs. Milner passed away in her home at "Long Distance" on November 5, 1998.

The Royal Visits

On May 5th, 1986 Prince Charles (now King Charles III) and Princess Diana arrived by seaplane on the shore below. Their visit to the Gardens was a well-kept secret acting as a brief respite from their time at Vancouver’s Expo ’86.  They enjoyed a walk through the gardens with Veronica, a hefty security team and a handful of staff, noting that it was the only "private" part of their entire Canadian tour. They were served a casual lunch in the dining room in the early afternoon, then Charles took the time to draw in his sketchbook, inspired by the sights, while Diana sat on the veranda taking advantage of the rare opportunity to relax. Diana later wrote a thank you letter to Veronica, stating “it was so very kind of you to have had us in your home today – what a break for us to come and have a peaceful day away from it all in such wonderful surroundings. You’d obviously gone to enormous trouble to make our visit a happy one, and we did enjoy ourselves more than you can possibly imagine.” Charles also sent his personal regards to Veronica, mentioning “you must be very proud of your garden after all these years, and I too think those Douglas firs are magnificent trees. I had no idea they were as old as you said! Lunch was a memorable affair and utterly delicious, we felt very spoilt to be looked after so beautifully. It made such a difference to my life to be able to do a little drawing after lunch. It is the best therapy I know – but I am preaching to the converted!”

While Charles and Diana's visit in '86 was kept under the radar, it was a very different story a year later when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrived for their three-day visit. Plans were arranged well in advance and their arrival was highly anticipated by all. 

Documents detailing the royal requirements and needs arrived months in advance and the planning began instantaneously. Veronica Milner accompanied RCMP into a helicopter to take photographs of the property from every angle to be able to create an extensive security plan. Gutters, windows and carpets were cleaned, the driveway was graded, appliances were replaced and even a flagpole was installed for the royal insignia. Veronica’s master bedroom was entirely re-painted, all her personal belongings were removed and a new mattress was brought in. Detailed plans for the menu, laundry and proper garbage disposal were all laid out long before their arrival.

Veronica and her dogs moved into the Old Dutch Inn for the duration of their visit from October 9th to 11th, 1987, to allow The Royals total respite and privacy (along with their robust team of staff and security, of course). The queen slept in what is now referred to as the Queen’s Room and Prince Philip set up his private quarters in what is now referred to as the Magnolia Room. It’s been told that Philip enjoyed barbequing by the poolside, and even taking a dip in the pool itself, which was solar heated and pumped full of fresh salt water directly from the ocean below. Breakfast was enjoyed in the dining room on a table dating back to the 1600s that still resides in Milner House today. It was noted that “the Queen enjoyed the tranquility of the autumn garden, birds and roses” (Cadwaladr, In Veronicas Garden).

On the final day of their visit, an hour before their departure, Veronica arrived back to her home to enjoy tea with them, where the queen admitted to Veronica that she felt “very at home here,” especially given the fact that there were framed photographs of Charles and Diana’s visit from the year prior. Before leaving, the Queen planted a Spanish chestnut tree in what is now called The Queen’s Garden, and Philip planted a maple just outside the garden gates. Signed photographs and small tokens were given to each of the staff and servants as a thank you for the hospitality.

Today you will find photographs of the royal visits on display at Milner Gardens and Woodland, along with signed official portraits of Queen Elizabeth ll and Prince Philip adorning the Queen’s Room walls. Queen Elizabeth Roses bloom around the Reflecting Pool (once the swimming pool).

In Veronica's Garden, the social history of the Milner Gardens and Woodland by Margaret Cadwaladr is available at the garden Gift Shop, or by email at